Baghdad hospital staff feels wronged by suicide bombing charges

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 19, 2008 

A protest poster produced by staff of the Al Rashad psychiatric teaching hospital in Baghdad laments the recent misfortunes of its administrators and condemns the U.S. military for the latest arrest.

HANDOUT / MCT

BAGHDAD — Inside the low-slung, brown stucco building that is the al Rashad psychiatric teaching hospital in a Baghdad neighborhood of the same name, employees wonder what will happen next.

Already they've seen an administrator resign after his son was kidnapped. In December, the hospital's director was gunned down. Then, 10 days ago, U.S. troops arrested the acting director on the suspicion that he supplied female mental patients to insurgents to become suicide bombers.

A siege mentality has set in among the eight doctors and nearly 20 staff members at the hospital, which treats about 1,200 mental patients and is one of only two institutions of its kind in Iraq. They no longer allow their patients to leave the hospital grounds for fear of how they'll be treated outside. They won't give their names to a reporter for fear that they'll be targeted next.

"I've got friends who come to my clinic, and they say, 'Why are you doing this?'" one doctor lamented. "My friends and even doctors tell me this, so what about ordinary people?"

The siege of the al Rashad hospital began after a pair of suicide bombings in Baghdad pet markets killed 99 people on Feb. 1. Within hours, Iraqi authorities said the bombers had Down syndrome, based on photographs of their detached heads.

Since then, a U.S. military official said that the women had been seen at either the al Rashad hospital or the Ibn Rushad psychiatric hospital, according to their medical histories, and were treated for bouts of depression and schizophrenia.

Al Rashad's acting director, Dr. Sahi Aboub, was detained on Feb. 10 for his alleged role in helping to set up the attacks. Hospital workers say coalition forces spent several hours searching his offices and took the contents of several filing cabinets.

Al Rashad staff members said the allegations that Aboub provided mentally disturbed patients to al Qaida in Iraq are without merit.

First, they said, the hospital doesn't treat the mentally retarded or those with severe mental impairments.

Second, they said that the hospital is controlled by forces loyal to Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr and that Aboub is a Shiite who's unlikely to be in league with a Sunni extremist group such as al Qaida in Iraq.

Doctors also said that Aboub has no background in psychiatry and that, unlike those already on staff, he had no say in when patients would check in or out of the hospital.

"He's not crazy enough to risk his life and job by cooperating with al Qaida," one doctor said.

There also are questions about how long Aboub has been working at the hospital. A document that U.S. forces left at the hospital when they arrested Aboub said he'd been involved in selecting possible suicide bombers since Jan. 1.

But health ministry documents that hospital workers provided to McClatchy show that Aboub didn't start work at the hospital until Jan. 13.

U.S. military officials declined to comment, saying their investigation is ongoing.

But the hospital workers say they feel besieged.

A protest poster that the staff created reads "Abduction - Assassination - Detention." There are four photos: one of a security guard who was killed at the hospital by unknown gunmen, and three of the ill-fated administrators — one who was detained by the Americans; his predecessor, who was killed by gunmen during an attempted kidnapping; and the administrator who resigned after his son was kidnapped.

The "barbaric incidents will paralyze" the hospital and its work, the poster says.

(Lannen reports for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. Khadim is a McClatchy special correspondent. Special Correspondent Sahar Issa contributed.)

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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